The True Self
The Feast of The Transfiguration
August 6, 2017
The True Self
So, I was looking back this week on some old sermons that I had preached in the past, because right when I read our Gospel lesson for this morning, I knew that I had preached on this text before. Sure enough, after looking, I found that actually I’ve preached on this text four or five times in the past few years. That’s ok, because this is one of my favorite pieces of scripture, but I also realized that I’ve only ever preached on this text for the last Sunday of Epiphany, the Sunday right before Ash Wednesday, which is obviously not today. No, today we don’t hear this scripture as a part of the liturgical timeline as we usually do, but we celebrate the actual event of the Transfiguration today because August 6th is the Feast of the Transfiguration. It is set as a Holy Day in our liturgical calendar and so we celebrate this event.
But I wonder, I wonder if any of you history buffs out there might be able to tell us why August 6th is the Feast of the Transfiguration? Go ahead and blurt it out if you know. Ready for the answer? August the 6th is the Feast of the Transfiguration because… Dracula! Yup, Dracula.
Ok, ok, so the connection is not actually that direct, but Pope Calixtus III did create this feast day to commemorate the Hungarian victory over the Muslim Turks in July of 1456, which stopped Islam from advancing any further into Europe, and this battle likely would not have been won had it not been for the help of a young and brutal prince known as Vlad the Impaler, whose actions later earned him immortality as the fictional character Dracula…and, I tell you all this today…well I just really wanted to be able to talk about Dracula in the pulpit! And it’s not even Halloween yet!
Ok, but why is the Transfiguration so important? Why is this text worthy of at least two sermons a year? It is, of course, a pivotally important moment in the life of Jesus, one that is absolutely overflowing with awesome symbols pointing us towards the Christ. Here we see Jesus, shining with the same overpowering light that once shown from the face of Moses on the mount long ago. Here, we hear the same voice of God that spoke at Jesus’s baptism and marked the beginning of His ministry, now naming Jesus as the One, the Messiah, and marking the end of His earthly ministry before He walks towards Jerusalem and his imminent physical death. Here we see the Christ, standing between Moses and Elijah, who symbolize the Law and the Prophets, signaling the Christ as being the ultimate fulfillment of both. I mean, there’s just so much!
Aside from all this awesome stuff though, aside from these powerful symbols and messages about the Christ, what actually strikes me most this morning, are the actions of Peter and the words that our author adds in response. Our scripture says, “‘Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” —not knowing what he said.’ Not knowing what he said. Now, this takes a bit of explaining, and it may flirt a bit with some sticky theology perhaps, but what I see this moment being about, what I hear happening in these words today, is not just a message about Christ, but a hint about who we each are in Christ and about our ultimate call towards Transfiguration ourselves. The ultimate call to become our true selves IN Christ.
You see, Peter didn’t exactly do anything wrong. He didn’t say anything bad, he simply didn’t know what he was saying. That’s because, at this point in our text, Peter did not yet know the rest of the story as our author did, and as we indeed do. Peter, quite naturally, I think, wanted to keep what he was witnessing right there. He wanted to contain the brilliance and love of God right there on that mountain, or wherever it would appear. He wanted to mark that place as Holy and let that Holiness dwell therein not unlike what we perhaps unintentionally do here with our churches, even though we know the rest of the story.
We know that after the Transfiguration, the complete revelation of Jesus as the Christ, comes crucifixion, comes resurrection, comes ascension, comes Pentecost. So, we know, unlike Peter in this scripture, that the true gift of God, the very point of the Christ, was not to be present and obtained, contained, observed, adored as something external, but that through Christ, all would be awakened to the truth of God’s presence within each of us. This is what Peter did not know, and this is the message which blesses us on this feast of the Transfiguration. It is the message and truth that our call, our purpose as Christians in this world is to become, to transfigure, into what we each were truly meant to be. Just as Moses shone brightly on the mount in fulfilling who he was to be, just as Jesus became the Christ, that to which he was anointed, we too, you too, are meant to shine with the brilliance of God upon becoming your true self, that to which God is calling you, Transfiguration.
Richard Rohr calls this the Immortal Diamond, the saints speak of it always, and even Jesus held this truth at the heart of his teachings and parables if you pay attention. Yet, just as Paul and Barnabas discover in the book of Acts, our main issue as supposed disciples of Christ today is that deep down the majority of our flock do not even think themselves worthy of God’s love. Our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry even lamented over this recently in a sermon saying “if God loves you, how DARE you not love yourself!” But, we think we’re not worthy, and so we fall back on old systems where we contain God in a temple and we try to earn or deserve forgiveness and an eternal prize even though we are already good. You are already Good, loved, Forgiven, Perfect, exactly who and how you are, right now. Created in the image of God…Good.
Our scriptures today actually give us another gem too though, another diamond if you will. They give us a nugget of truth, a clue as to how to go about this whole transfiguration thing, about how to turn this thing around. The key, the key is prayer. Prayer! So simple. But I don’t mean the saying a bunch of words kind of prayer, or the kind of prayer that is recited from memory. I mean the actually listening to God kind of prayer, the sitting, submitting, constantly seeking the will of God before our own…kind of prayer. We see this, today, in Moses glowing with God’s light after going to the mountain to…..pray. We see it in the Transfiguration of Jesus while on the mountain, where he went to…pray. We see it in what Peter did not know, that God was not out there somewhere, that the light and Transfiguration were not things that fell upon Moses or happened to Jesus externally, but rather that they were the ultimate truth which came from within them. So, ironically, friends, our call, our purpose, our prayer, our lives turning around actually begins with our beginning to first turn within. Our beginning to first, truly Pray.
I’m going to leave you today with some words from Frederick Buechner,
“It was Jesus of Nazareth all right, the man they’d tramped many a dusty mile with, whose mother and brothers they knew, the one they’d seen as hungry, tired, footsore as the rest of them. But it was also the Messiah, the Christ, in his glory. It was the holiness of the man shining through his humanness, his face so afire with it they were almost blinded.
Even with us something like that happens once in awhile. The face of a man walking his child in the park, of a woman picking peas in the garden, of sometimes even the unlikeliest person listening to a concert, say, or standing barefoot in the sand watching the waves roll in, or just having a beer at a Saturday baseball game in July. Every once and so often, something so touching, so incandescent, so alive transfigures the human face that it’s almost beyond bearing.”